God has a very subtle sense of humour. Why else would He create the best years of our life and put them at the beginning, so that when we realise how much more we could have appreciated that time, it’s gone, past, disappeared. Or maybe it’s because when we realise that entering this life means being on a journey by default, we start looking around us, and we suddenly realise how steep the mountain is and how far we have to go. Maybe God used His humour to bring Him glory – because He likes to bring His character into His creation, and because, if we do decide to turn things around, He can lift us up and give us the strength and resources to do exactly that.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were on a journey. They were constantly moaning and complaining and falling away from the moral path God had designated them (Numbers 11 – 25). And yet, God never ceased to care for them and provide for them. Even Balaam, who would resource to sorcery (Numbers 24:1), was privileged enough to experience such an intimate relationship with God that he was able to hear God tell Him to bless, not to curse the Israelites.
Such is all of humanity reflected in the Israelites, in Balaam, in every one of us. We create our own idols and get distracted by shiny things that the world has to offer. And it’s so easy to grab for those things, only to realise that they weren’t as shiny as they first appeared – and then we look up and realise how long the road actually is, until we can be good enough to meet God face to face. And all along that road are the things of life that are deceivingly shiny – that are in actual fact nothing more than lies, sucking out the joy and life that only God can give.
I wonder if the Israelites ever enjoyed their journey. Not that I can imagine 40 years in the desert being particularly exciting or easy. But if what is written in Romans 8:28 is true – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” – then maybe God used that difficult time for their good. Perhaps they grew closer as a community. Maybe they comforted each other when it got difficult. Did they learn to love God together as they sat around the fire, singing songs of worship and enjoying the fact that they were not alone – they had each other, and they had God?
God did not like that His people were rebellious and stubborn. They were punished for their sins, for not fearing the Lord at all times, for not trusting Him enough to not act in an impulsive, selfish way. When we leave the path He wants us to walk, we should expect the discipline of a loving, amazing Father – He is even able to turn around that punishment for our own good and for His glory: “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:20).
As we each walk through the desert patches of our lives – and sometimes they can seem to last forever – perhaps it’s a question of whether we are letting the situation break us, or whether we are letting God make us through the situation. Realising the potential of a place God has put us in can seem impossible when we appear to be surrounded only by dust. Have we forgotten that God created man out of dust (Genesis 2:7)? Have we forgotten that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13)?
Perhaps we have also forgotten to look around us and take in the beauty of the world that God created – not just the one we live in physically, but the one we walk through spiritually and emotionally. What better feeling than to stop and look down at the valley and see the trees, the colours, the clouds, the sky, and breathe in the fresh air and marvel at how far we’ve come. Yes, there may be a long way to go, but we’ve been given the journey to make of it what we may – to realise what we have and still can achieve, or to realise what we feel like we are supposed to achieve. Whatever little we believe we have been given, if we use it with all our heart for the Lord, it will grow beyond our expectations, just as in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:13-30). One day we will meet our Creator face to face, but until then, we have the comfort of knowing that Jesus has brought us close to Him, that He is with us all the time, all around us, and in every blessing – even when we can’t feel it. When we can appreciate that, we can begin to enjoy the journey, whatever it may entail, knowing we are safe and blessed within His caring, healing hands.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31).